by Dan Thayer
My family just traveled across the country to visit my wife's grandmother (affectionately known as “Gummie”), and we had the big goal of improving her WIFI internet to the point where she would be able to video chat with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As the center of her family, she always has the local kids and grandkids in her house, but those of us farther away have struggled to get her into video chatting to keep up with us. On top of that, Gummie wanted us to set up exterior video cameras around her house, which her current internet bandwidth definitely would not support.
Assessing the Situation
A technician from her internet service provider (ISP) was scheduled for the day after we arrived, and he showed up to review Gummie's current service plan, her modem hardware, and the available options for upgrades. We learned a few things:
- The provider delivered 18 Mbps download speed to her house, which is theoretically enough to video chat, but only where signal is strong in the house. Currently that was only in the back of the house, closest to the modem unit.
Back of the House, Speed Test Results
- A WIFI extender device we bought her four years ago was very out of date and was not helping to spread her WIFI coverage. The front of her house and downstairs barely had any signal.
Front of the House, Speed Test Results
- She was in an "outdated pricing tier", which means that the ISP had lowered the cost of Gummie's current plan but wasn't about to adjust her monthly bill of $52/month without her asking for it first.
- The wiring in her neighborhood is old and does not have the more modern fiberoptic lines that could give speeds up to 1000 Mbps and higher. But she could have her 18 Mbps bumped up to 45 Mbps for about the same monthly cost.
Boosting the Signal
So, what could we do? We scheduled another appointment for the ISP to come and upgrade her to 45 Mbps, which meant running a new line to her house from the closest pole. That speed boost would allow for more devices to download video (video chatting) and upload video (security cameras). But how could we get the same signal strength throughout the home?
We bought Gummie a modern mesh router plus extender unit, which came as a kit for about $150. This Netgear Orbi AC1200 is rated for a 5,000 square foot house. This was set up following instructions from a smartphone app and did not require much more than plugging the router and the extender into power outlets and restarting her existing modem. Then voila! The same speeds were now available throughout the house, and video chatting was now possible everywhere.
One other useful nugget we learned from the ISP was to apply for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program. This benefit for lower income households can provide $30 off your monthly cable bill! For Gummie, all we had to do was log into her account on www.SSA.gov and download a Benefit Verification Letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Providing that letter to her ISP's website lowered her bill immediately. If your bill is already $30 or less, you could end up with free internet courtesy of the federal government.
- TIP #1: contact your internet service provider to ask what speeds and prices are available and how they compare to your current plan. If you have been on your current plan for a long time, your costs may have gone down without you realizing.
- TIP #2: check if you qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program discount to potentially save $30/month.
- TIP #3: if you have issues covering your whole house with strong WIFI, look into mesh routers to extend coverage.